Portrait photographer Jenny Lewis has been working on One Day Young for over four years, capturing women in the first 24hrs since the birth of their child, in their own homes. With International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, it seems like an opportune moment to share this ongoing series with you. I had the pleasure of catching up with Jenny over a coffee last week to find out why she decided to start this project.
What inspired you to start photographing women and their newborns on day 1?
It felt really important to me to create some positive stories about birth to dilute the negative messages and portraits are my tool for telling these stories. Having had two really good births, a water birth at UCL and a water birth at home I felt it was important to share this possible outcome… when it all goes well..no drama. I think for over ten months I was bracing myself for the most traumatic unmanageable ordeal and in fact that wasn’t the case at all. I hadn’t met anyone who said it would be OK, that birth could be empowering and joyful and that actually made me feel angry. My only knowledge was fear, people clamming up and giving worried looks, or really dry over medicalised, unemotional explanations from the hospital. With some positive stories in mind I would of been in a much more confident head space.
How do you think your photos capture the wealth of emotions and rawness following birth?
To capture these portraits in the first 24hrs is really important. That’s when the emotions are still primitive and overwhelming. The women are powerful, proud of what they have achieved, this is captured before reality seeps back in.
Do women approach you to take part in the project or do you seek out new candidates?
All the women are strangers not chosen on their age, class, race or looks but responding to leaflets i post around the borough. Later word of mouth and groups like Mothers Meeting , Momma Loves and The Hackney Homebirth Team have helped recruit more subjects.
Being a mother yourself and having gone through birth twice, does seeing these women on day one make you feel differently about how you felt in that early hormonal time?
Not really I felt pretty amazing, that crazy tectonic shift when you look at everything in the world a little differently …like you suddenly get it and have huge empathy for other women. A certain clarity before the haze of tiredness takes over.
What makes these brand new mothers so interesting to photograph?
Having been an editorial portrait photographer for years shooting celebrities and real life features , I am constantly trying to break down the barriers people put up, searching for a true portrait. With the One Day Young the honesty I’ve been searching for is there immediately. Unapologetic proud women who are not trying to be prettier, cooler, slimmer, more intelligent…a lack of awareness of the self they want to portray and just what they are feeling openly fresh on their faces. Its been such a great pleasure to shoot this series and I am extremely grateful for the generosity all these women. to let me come round and capture this rawness and intimate time.
Who was the most interesting woman to shoot?
Absolutely impossible to pull out one women against another. All the women are equal in my eyes, the stories I’ve heard have been incredible and give me goose bumps to think of. Women who lost their own mothers at an early age, lost a child, women who have struggled with IVF, women who are on their own, but at this moment its like all their life experiences are levelled.
What is the atmosphere in the room when you first meet the women and their babies?
The atmosphere is addictive, its crackling from the moment the front door is opened, sounds crazy but its like a tangible bubble of love you can almost taste it. I’m often the first person in the use once the midwife has left if its a home birth or the first if they have just got back from hospital so its an incredibly intimate time. I’ve never felt more welcomed into peoples homes and have a great affection for all the women I’ve met.
You have also done another project celebrating Modern Motherhood? Do you think there is a shift in the way women as mothers are being perceived in the media/society?
The Modern Motherhood exhibition was really looking at the women beyond the fact that they were mothers, their ability to be both a mother and carry on their own creative journey. One Day Young is a celebration of Women, at that transition that they become a mother… lets see how it goes down in the media I’m looking forward to hearing a critical response.
Where are you planning on showcasing these photos?
I am currently pitching for an exhibition but better not say where for now, but after that i would like to see the series in hospitals settings aswell as art galleries. To be used as a tool to increase positive thinking around birth. The view of birth is so medicalised, you may have views on this being a midwife, I think it can only be helpful to encourage the media to see women at home in their normal environment. To understand the shape of the mother straight after birth the puffiness and redness of the baby. I know my daughter who is 7 has a positive view of birth from seeing this series as i’ve been working on it for the last four years. She is fully aware of a woman’s body shape after having a baby, That labour is difficult but not unmanageable pain and certainly not something to fear. The stories she hears of birth are ones of joy and great courage rather than whispers of screaming and terror so she will have this understanding in her when she grows up. I am obviously aware that there are complications with birth but that doesn’t mean that the positive stories shouldn’t be shared to help educate and empower other women.
How do you hope these pictures help other expectant women out there about I embark on this journey into motherhood?
Like i said before the series is like a mantra that its going to be OK. The message is the same in every image so by the repetition it gets stronger and is impossible to ignore. You would easily be able to find someone in the series that relates to you whether that be age, physical build…and that gives you the encouragement that if they can do it so can I. If nothing else there is a great selection of baby names to look through.
Blog: Twins In London
“Throughout my pregnancy I had been warned to be ready for my MCDA twin boys from 32 weeks, it had gone fairly smoothly bar sickness throughout the pregnancy, in hindsight I was suffering from depression in the form of anhedonia throughout the pregnancy which is an inability to experience pleasure from usually enjoyable activities, I didn’t feel happy or sad and having such a low range of emotions is really unlike me, other than this I was fit and had lots of energy though . I had made the decision to have a C-section quite early on as I’d been scared by stories such as there being a 50% chance of having a c section to get the second twin out. My consultant had told me that if the second baby wasn’t born after 5 minutes they would give me a c-section which was the nail in the coffin for me. This is of course not what happened. At 32+6 I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia on a routine visit to the midwife. I think it is important to note that throughout my pregnancy I did not see midwives, I was only given doctors appointments and in hindesite I missed some really valuable advice and care as I was seen as a medical risk rather than a mother to be, the practicalities of the safe delivery of my babies went over everything and I was totally unprepared for the natural delivery that I ended up having.
Two days before my pre-eclampsia diagnosis I had gone to antenatal classes something I had had to insist on being invited to early as within my local hospital they were only offered from 35 weeks. The session I had attended was on natural delivery, I remember mumbling to my partner that there really was no point in us being there. The midwife leading the class made an important point that I have never forgotten “when you come to hospital bring your bag and an open mind”.
Having received my diagnosis of pre-eclampsia I was in complete shock, as it had been a midwives appointment I had thought it was a mistaken appointment and told my partner not to bother coming. The consultant informed me that I should prepare myself to have my babies the next day. I had come to the appointment on my lunch break, I had not noticed that anything was different, my legs had swollen at the ankles but I had not really noticed and thought that this was normal. So having gotten home I was on bed rest and went back into hospital the next day and was told that whatever I was doing I should keep it up and they informed me that the babies might not need to come until the Wednesday. I had felt some leaking sensations and went for investigations, which proved to be a false alarm. In the waiting room I had been entertained by a woman who was getting a firm but polite bollocking from the receptionist for using an ambulance to get to the hospital, she kicked off and her entourage joined in to give the receptionist abuse who managed it all remarkably well and told her she should have used a taxi and not wasted public money on an ambulance that is needed for more urgent calls.
Anyway. Less than 12 hours after coming home from the hospital at 4:30am my waters broke and I went to hospital by taxi. Sensibly grabbing a towel to sit on to not mess up the taxi seat. I was taken to a room and my belly was monitored, from about 5:30am and I was around 2cm dialated. The midwives came and spoke to me and hoped that my contractions would subside and I would be moved to a bed for a few days before the babies were born. I made it clear I was having a c-section which was noted. 2 hours and 15 minutes later I had the urge to push, like needing a poo from my vagina. I had not read anything about it but my body knew want to do. I asked my husband to go and get somebody to come and help, they ran in saying ‘no no no’ looked between my legs and the dr mouthed ‘F**k’. I was fully diallated and rushed to a theatre, commenting ‘but I’m having a c-section’ ‘No you aren’t, we don’t push them back up to take them out’. When I arrived there were 15 people waiting for me. The anaesthetist were lovely. I remember the nurse shouting at some of the team for chatting as I was in the middle of a contraction and they were trying to do a spinal block ‘can I have some quiet please for my lady’. I must have gone in to shock as my body was violently shaking. When it finally worked I just felt a wave of relief rush over me and I had to visualise pushing as I couldn’t feel anything. Twin 1 was born fairly quickly as he was already in the birth canal, it took a further 26 minutes for twin 2 to make an appearance, forceps had to be used and he was rresuscitated I don’t really remember this as I was off my face on whatever had been given to me for the pain. I didn’t get to see either of them for another 12 hours as I’d lost a lot of blood and couldn’t walk. I remember being impressed that the beds were heated only to be informed that this was the spinal block wearing off. That woman who had kicked off at the reception was in the same area of the ward as me amongst the women who needed more support from the nurses. She was shouting about needing foot massages….
When I eventually got to see my babies they were in different rooms, one with more beeps than the other but both in NICU. Twin 1 laid back stretched out looking pleased to have more space where twin 2 was curled in a ball with a furrowed brow looking like he was not ready. Twin one was just over 2kg and twin 2 was just under. It was so sad to be on the maternity unit without my babies, I got to work on expressing milk, I did it with all my might, it took 2 hours to express 2mls of cholostrum 1ml per syringe. I took it to NICU and was asked for 6mls every 3 hours. I was devastated at the impossibility of this task. I couldn’t take care of my babies and I couldn’t feed them. Of course my body was able to meet the demands which was such a relief.
The boys were discharged just under 2 weeks later. They’ll be 3 next week and are hulking beasts. I am so grateful I was able to have a vaginal delivery, I was running for the bus 5 days after they were born to get to the hospital, not something I’d have managed with a c-section. I am still amazed at my body.
If I was to have another baby and it was a singleton I would definitely opt for a home birth….. we’ll see….. 10% risk of twins again!”
“My latent labour started on the 14th of April at about 3am when I woke with mild contractions at home in bed. I went back to sleep and woke intermittently for the next few hours until I got up. I spent a relatively nice/strange/surreal/calm day at home with my husband just having what felt like bad period pains and Braxton Hicks together. I ate and drank normally and had a 45 minute nap. After lunch we strapped the TENS machine on and went for a 2 hour walk in the park, went to Sainsburys and was even approached in the street by a film crew asking me to talk to Camera about why I love living in Balham! I told them I was in labour and they retreated pretty quickly!
The TENS machine was lovely, it felt really really nice and was a very welcome distraction. By about 3 or 4pm my contractions were becoming more painful and I had to breathe through them. I was trying to remember to welcome each contraction (as my Ante Natal teacher had taught me) but by about 7.30pm the pain suddenly ramped up and became unmanageable and I didn’t want to be at home anymore. I got into Hospital at about 8.30pm and was already 5cm dilated!
I tried Gas and Air and I thought I was going to be sick and I felt really disorientated and panicked, but I then tried it out when I wasn’t having a contraction and I felt a lot more in control and quickly got used to it- I would recommend persevering if the first attempt isn’t positive, although I don’t know how much it actually did for the pain.
They ran the water bath, which took ages, and I got in about 20 minutes later- this felt amazing and although it didn’t do anything for the pain really, it does give you an amazing feeling of warmth and comfort and weightlessness. I basically then closed my eyes and held my husband’s hand and the gas and air in the other hand and concentrated on breathing. Time went very quickly but at about 11 30pm decided I couldn’t take the pain anymore – so I decided I wanted to be examined to see how far dilated I was, as I was about to beg for an epidural (I was secretly hoping she would say I was only 6cm…and then I would get an epidural and end the pain!!!) but I was 9cm and in transition… so I jumped back in the bath and pretty soon after I started pushing!
This bit was hard, and painful but I was so encouraged by the thought that it would only last an hour or so maximum! After about half an hour I pushed his head out- and a little hand (he was coming out in a Superman pose) – the midwife explained that with a water birth she would not touch him as he came out and I would just push him, so there was a strange few minutes where I could look down and see his head out, not breathing yet- but I had to wait for another contraction so I could push his body out. However I felt very calm and so relieved that the end was near!! One last push and he came out all on his own and the midwife grabbed him and helped him swim up to the surface!! He cried straight away for a few seconds and then chilled out as soon as the midwife put him on my chest. He was born at 10 minutes past midnight on the 15th April, one day early, weighing 6lb 6oz. My labour was recorded as being 4 hours as this was the time from when I came into hospital.
I had the injection for the Placenta delivery whilst still in the water- I got out of the water to deliver it, but as I stood up, it came out, so that was great. The injection made me contract for a few hours longer but they gave me some painkillers to deal with the pain of that. As soon he was delivered I felt absolutely fine, my hideous indigestion had disappeared and I felt completely normal!
My son is absolutely amazing and worth every second of discomfort during pregnancy and labour, the memories of which have faded fast!
I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I would have liked to have known more about Latent Labour as I was confused when people kept telling me I wasn’t in “proper labour”.
My advice to a first time mother would definitely be to have an open mind regarding pain relief and the way in which your baby will be born. I am aware I had a very good and relatively quick labour but this is something that was down to luck and perhaps genetics rather than anything else. I would also say DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE! It sounds so obvious, but I kept forgetting to breathe and my husband had to remind me! I had made him read lots about labour and breathing and how he could help me, and this was a great help when the pain was unbearable”.
This post is going to come as a bit of a shock to some of you out there. Some of you will be stunned, amazed and maybe even confused. I am a midwife and mother and I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding. I mix fed my second daughter from 4 months (what the f word surely not?!) and I don’t always believe that breast is best.
There I said it. I have admitted to all my 2442 followers out there that breastfeeding wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be. I felt emotionally and physically tied to my baby and not in the way I expected. I wore the same 3 tops and bra for 6 months and dreamed of wearing ‘normal’ clothes again that didn’t require access to my enormous milky mammaries. Don’t get me wrong, I never had any of the major problems associated with breastfeeding such as mastits, tongue tie, sore nipples or lack of supply. In fact I had a relatively easy time ‘getting off to the right start’. Both my babies fed well from the beginning, my milk came in like clockwork on day 3 and thanks to two good births I felt physically prepared for the initial demands of feeding my baby every 2 hours. But as the weeks went by and the satisfaction that those chubby cheeks and thigh rolls were all thanks to me, I began to tire of the relentlessness of feeding. How was my baby still feeding every 2 hours when my friend’s baby was doing 4 hour stretches at night? I doubted my own milk supply (although by the endless ‘wet patch’ look I constantly sported in most cafes in South East London despite wearing DOUBLE ABSORBENT BREAST PADS begs to differ). Yet I still thought my babies weren’t getting enough.
And when breast feeding did end – both enforced by me not wanting to do it any more, I planned to burn my breastfeeding bra (which by then was falling apart by the constant clip-up and down motion I had done 17 times a day) in celebration of me getting my freedom back. In truth I just chucked it in the bin along with my maternity leans, the pair of black saggy leggings which I had lived in and horrible unflattering floaty tops. I’m sure my husband was secretly thrilled but gave me a big hug and congratulated me on all my hard work I had done for our daughters.
And my my feelings don’t just end there with my own personal experience. It goes further to my professional experience, something I’m sure some of you will be able to recognise in this next part of the story.
Last year I went to visit one of my women on day 12 postnatal. She had had a fairly straightforward birth and feeding had been going ok. I arrived at her house and she was struggling to latch her baby. I helped her change position discussed encouraging a deeper latch. She seemed a little distance not her usual self but put it down to tiredness as the baby had been up lots in the night. She called me 3 days later in floods of tears, she suspected she had mastitis and was in a bad way. I rushed round to her house to find her with a raging temperature, sweating buckets and a very hot hard breast. She was clearly suffering with mastitis and we dealt with the initial treatment – antibiotics, ibuprofen and expressing from the breast to unblock the milk duct. I went back the next day to find a much happier woman. The treatment had started to work and she felt better. She then confessed she wanted to tell me something but felt like she had let me down. She confessed that she wasn’t enjoying breastfeeding but did it because of the health benefits for her and her baby. She said she felt guilty that she wanted to give up, like she’d let her daughter down and like a failure as a mother. It was so sad hearing this. She was an emotional mess and sobbed into my arms. We had a big chat and I said she had to do what was right for her and make an informed decision.
Formula milk is not the evil poison that mothers give their babies. It’s the other option available for women who either choose not to breastfeed, those who can’t breastfeed their babies and those who have simply decided to stop. And thank god we have that option in this country. And before you start the formula company rage I think we need to start putting women’s sanity first. Surely formula-feeding is better than a mum who is on her way to PND? In the end, protecting your mental heath is more important because your baby needs you. Sadly, not all health professionals agree with me but everyone is entitled to their opinion.
And it’s not just me who feels like this. Two of my friends felt the same. “I discovered that for some, breastfeeding turns out to be a lot tougher than expected. It’s not just you, it’s your baby too. He needs to learn how to feed just as you need to learn how to feed him. And neither of you get the chance to practice. A new mum who I sat next to at a support group summed up by shrieking ‘Why O why doesn’t anyone tell you it’s like this? It’s horrendous!’ I struggled. My baby boy struggled. Breastfeeding was painful and I remember feeling a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach when it was time for a feed. Not the feeling I was expecting. Cue intense feelings of failure as a mother. After all, it is supposed to be natural, and as a new mum it’s pretty much your only job.”
Another friend adds
“I felt totally unprepared for breastfeeding. The one class I’d had confirmed my wacky belief that it would be nothing but a beautiful, natural, straightforward bonding experience between me and my child. I had no idea how often babies fed, what obstacles might come my way, and moreover, how I’d cope emotionally with having a baby manhandling my nipples basically all the time. The first week was blissful, probably thanks to his good latch and a mega dose of endorphins, but after that, I felt knackered and found the initial let-down sensation incredibly painful, to the point where I’d dread his next feed and cry quite a lot. I felt ignorant and pathetic and I felt guilty for even wanting to give him a bottle. After about 6 weeks it became easier and less painful but I still found the small gaps between feeds relentless and exhausting. I breastfed for 6 months, but struggle to say I enjoyed it.”
I sense a feeling that these two friends aren’t the only ones out there. And I also sense that a lot of you felt that you weren’t prepared for the huge struggles you may face when trying to breastfeed. So what is the answer? What is the happy medium?
As a midwife I would say I will support a woman in any decision she makes when it comes to feeding. I have a role to educate her of the benefits of breastfeeding to both the baby and mother and support her through the common struggles that a lot of women encounter. But I won’t judge her if she chooses to give her baby formula and if it means she and her baby will be a happier team, then that is the most important factor in all of this. Moving on from breasfeeding isn’t an easy decision for any woman – I should know.
And as a mother who found breastfeeding her first daughter relentless, demanding and exhausting but by the time I was ready for my husband to give her a bottle of expressed milk she point blankly refused and screamed and screamed until I returned home from the hairdressers, I’d say don’t feel like a failure. Or a bad mother, or guilty if you don’t get the huge rush of oxytocin every time you are woken in the night (read every 2 hours) to feed your baby whilst your husband snores loudly next to you. Your midwife/health visitor/GP should support you and respect your decisions in how you raise your child. You pals from your NCT group should do the same. Share your troubles, attend local breastfeeding support groups and breastfeeding cafes in children’s centres who can help you if you’re struggling to ‘get it right’. And if getting it right doesn’t work for you and your baby then there is another option. It’s not giving up, it’s choosing the alternative method that still means your baby will be happy, healthy and well nourished. And your baby won’t love you any less if it’s milk comes from a carton via a bottle. And you won’t love your baby any less if it’s not feeding from your breast. I loved and still love both my girls exactly the same.
There is more to life than how you feed your baby. Behind every happy baby is a happy mother. Make the right choice that’s right for you.
`Ohhh, what was that?!`
Shortly after my husband came to bed and I had another…every 10 minutes for a while and then 7, different to any contractions with the girls, these were spreading to my back too. I text Catherine, my midwife at 12:58am:
`Putting you on alert. Contractions every 7ish mins I think. Will keep u updated.X`
I lay in bed for a while longer, wondering whether to tempt fate or not and set up the room I planned to give birth in. Part of me didn`t believe `this is it, this is labour`. I went downstairs about 1.30am, only to be back up and down the loo, trickles of urine, Pips head was so low.
Once downstairs the contractions were coming every 5 minutes and unbeknown to me my husband text Catherine again and she came out, while she was on her way about 2:15am, my husband went out for snacks and I paced the floor with each contraction watching Friends on Comedy Central `The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs` and `The One with All the Candy`. I was trying to distract myself!
`Contractions every 3ish mins. I am coping okay. Will keep u updated. Hubby gone to bed.X`
I sat talking to Mum in between contractions, my husband has said earlier that he needed to pop into work to sort something out and I wasn`t sure whether to let him or not. He has lost his phone, so I was worried that if Pip decided to come when he was on his way to or from work he would miss the birth. By this point it was around 7am, labour had been 7 hours so far. In the end we decided he would go, he said he`d be an hour maximum. My parents sorted the girls around 7.30am and I decided to have a bath. My husband ran it and went off to work. I went to the loo and had a massive show, it wasn`t showing any signs of slowing so I text Catherine again:
`Had Massive show. Having warm bath will update after x`
I got into the bath but couldn`t lie down, I found sitting forward eased the pressure, the pressure of Pips head was much more intense than any of the contractions. I planned to stay in the bath until my husband got home, however the warm water didn`t take the edge off the contractions, if anything it made them more intense and closer, I couldn`t concentrate to time them, eyes closed, breathing through them, telling myself Pip was on his way and that my desire to scream wouldn`t help anyone. My Dad (and Sasha, the dog) kept coming up to check I was okay, calling through the door. Sasha was desperate to get to me, sniffing round the door – my intuitive baby. After about 20 minutes in the bath I decided to get out, I thought the contractions may ease so I let the water out first. A contraction hit as the water ebbed away, perhaps the water was helping more than I had initially thought, there was no way I could get out of the bath, I started to panic a little, thinking I may end up giving birth alone in the bath, the contractions were on top of each other at this point. I tried to think calmly, determined to get out. I text Catherine again:
`Trying to get out of bath. Very intense now. Don`t know how often hard to time.X`
Catherine replied she was on her way so I thought I have to get out of the bath! More show, made it from the bathroom to my room, then downstairs. Dad had said my husband was on his way back so I sat waiting for him, growing more and more impatient as each minute passed. Just as Catherine arrived I said to Mum:
`Where the hell is he?`
worried he would miss the baby being born…he arrived as I was cursing. It wasn`t long between him calling and arriving home, but to me it felt like hours. I wasn`t comfortable on the sofa, but couldn`t move to get comfortable.
Hes been born with a tongue tie, but this isn`t affecting his feeding at all, he has a good strong latch and shows signs of hunger (chewing fingers etc). I am forever indebted to Catherine, she was amazing and just the Midwife I needed to give me the courage to have a homebirth, nothing is better than sharing such an intimate time with someone you know.”
Today’s birth story is a pretty fresh one, as this baby was only born 9 days ago! Very impressive Bethie! Bethie is an American living in London with her husband and little girl Charlotte and new baby Peter. Her first baby was born in Washington 3 years ago.
Blog: A Tree Grows In London
“After a few false starts in the days leading up to the big day, my contractions started for real around 3pm on Thursday 24 January (I was exactly 39 weeks). Things progressed quickly from there: by 4pm my husband was on his way home from work and I made arrangements for my three-year-old daughter to be picked up to stay at a friend’s house. By 6pm my waters had broken and we were ready to head to the hospital!
The cab ride to the hospital had been the source of much anxiety for me during my pregnancy. I kept imagining being stuck in traffic whilst in the throes of labour and permanently soiling our nice cab driver’s new car . . . Luckily the cab ride was fairly uneventful (aside from my moaning and groaning of course). Well, that’s not entirely true. It was uneventful until we were about two minutes from the hospital and my contractions got way more intense and felt like they were coming one after the other. The cab driver got worried and pulled straight into the emergency entrance where a wheelchair was immediately brought over to the car. My contractions were two minutes apart and already more painful than I ever remember them being with my daughter (I laboured naturally for 15 hours with her before eventually getting an epidural. You can read her birth story here). I was wheeled into Labour and Delivery and was promptly parked in the waiting room next to another woman in the throes of labour. That was the moment I started losing my visions of finally having the peaceful, midwife led water birth that I wasn’t allowed when I had my daughter (the area hospitals didn’t allow midwives). I started panicking: “I don’t want to be in the waiting room! I want to be in a birthing pool! I want to get out of this wheelchair! I want a midwife to come help me! Please! Somebody send a midwife to come help me!” Despite my pleas for help (and yet another labouring mother added to the mix) I was still in the waiting room. The pain was so intense and unbearable that I couldn’t fathom the horror of living through another contraction and yet they kept coming one after another after another.
I decided the only way I was going to make it through this delivery without being kicked out of the country for assault was to get an epidural. I told my husband that I wanted an epidural and knowing how adamant I had been about not wanting one, he responded, “we’ll see”. Not what I wanted to hear. By the time I was finally wheeled into a room I had made it my mission to request an epidural from very person I encountered. I continued to get more and more agitated about it and began to demand that someone, anyone, needed to get me an anaesthetist right away. The midwife explained that it was too late. My contractions were on top of each other and the baby was coming. I continued to panic. This wasn’t how I imagined things. There was no birthing pool or low lights or peaceful music. There was just me on a bed, the sound of my voice crying out in pain and yelling for everyone to be quiet and bright lights and lots of people hustling around the room. (Though my husband informed me after reading this part of my story that no one was “hustling “around the room and, in fact, I was the only one making any noise . . . )
Now, I’m not sure what changed, but at some point in the midst of the chaos, the anaesthetist arrived and gave me an epidural. Within ten minutes I was feeling human again. I was finally able to open my eyes and properly meet and apologise to my midwife. It was as if the storm clouds had opened up and the sun appeared. We were able to talk about the birth process and she went over my birth plan (uh . . . just ignore that bit about no epidural . . .) and then she brought Jason and me nice hot cups of tea. Jason and I chatted, snoozed and enjoyed the quiet, peaceful atmosphere until around midnight when the midwife said it was time to get ready to push.
When I gave birth to my daughter, it was a typical American scenario where the nurse gets everything ready and the doctor rushes in at the last minute to catch the baby as it comes out. As you can see our doctor even came equipped with a “splash mask” visor:
My experience with the midwife led birth was completely different to my experience in America. No additional people came into our room. It was just the midwife and my husband and me. There was nothing frantic about it. No commotion. No splash guards. Just the midwife calmly encouraging me through my pushes and my husband watching in amazement as our son came into the world — not to a screaming and swearing and a delirious mother — but to a rested, calm, peaceful, mother. Peter Thomas Hungerford was born at 00:45 on 25 Jan, 2014 and weighed exactly eight pounds.
Now don’t get me wrong. Despite my son’s perfect entry into the world, I still regret that I was unable to have a medication-free birth. And if I am ever blessed with a third baby I will again plan a natural water birth. But given how things played out, I was overall thrilled with how amazing and beautiful my son’s birth was.
As soon as he arrived he was placed on my chest and remained there for at least an hour per my request. (The weighing, poking and prodding happened later). The baby and I were both in good shape so the midwife left the room leaving Jason and me to bond with our beautiful son. It was magical. He took beautifully to the breast and got skin-to-skin time with both Jason and me. The midwife eventually returned and brought us more tea (God save the queen!) and after another hour or so we were moved to the labour ward.
Now here I could write about how annoying it was to have to share a recovery room with three strangers and their babies when all I wanted was to go home. I had heard so many stories of women giving birth in the hospital and arriving home within a few hours and had been hopeful I could follow suite. However, I was required to stay longer than normal because I tested positive for group b strep so the labour ward was unavoidable. And despite the labour ward horror stories I had heard (including being one bed over from a woman attempting to nurse a baby who was born with teeth!) it really wasn’t so bad and we were back home within 24 hours of arriving at the hospital.
In America we were required to spend three days at the hospital after the birth of our daughter (despite having had a completely normal birth) and were extremely anxious to bring her home. Jason and I were both thrilled to be home so soon this time around and we’ve been so impressed that a midwife comes to our house to check up on baby and me.
We are happily adjusting to being a family of four and big sister Charlotte couldn’t be more pleased with new new brother!”
For some pregnant women, far from feeling the excited anticipation of expecting a baby, the state of pregnancy itself can create up negative feelings. This can lead to confusion and sadness that the expected emotions in pregnancy are absent. We read and hear a lot about postnatal depression, which occurs after the birth of a baby, but little is known or documented about depression during pregnancy.
This guest post is written by a fellow midwife who when found herself pregnant 2 years ago, couldn’t understand why she felt, flat, emotional and depressed. Unaware of the signs of antenatal depression she almost ended the pregnancy altogether. But with the right help and support she is now loving being a Mum to a beautiful little girl and wants to share her experience of antenatal depression.
‘I’ve always known I was meant to have children. It was as natural to me as breathing. Of course I’d be a mother. Watching babies – and mummies – be born every day it’s always at the forefront of your mind.
Admittedly, when it did happen, I wasn’t quite prepared for it. I had a wonderful, supportive man, a good job and a new house, so no reason not to, right? It was a bit of a shock but we shrugged our shoulders, took a deep breath and said lets do this.
Whilst it was a secret (we didn’t even tell our parents until after the 12 week scan) it was fine. No one expected anything of me. I felt a bit sick, really tired and cried at the drop of hat but that was normal.
After the scan I started to notice I didn’t feel quite right. People kept saying how excited I must be – I’d been complaining about how broody I was for the past couple of years – but I felt nothing. Just flat. No emotion. I couldn’t relate to the tiny, fluttering fetus inside me. I put it down to the fact that it had been quite a shock and we needed to get our heads round it still.
A month later and I was fed up. Fed up of the fake smile and nod, fed up of crying, of feeling guilty and most of all, fed up of not being me. I came home from work, sat on the kitchen floor and sobbed. I resolved to go to the GP the next day to book an abortion. I couldn’t cope with the emptiness and numbness inside me any longer. I hated my life and my situation and this was the only way I could see out – I never felt like ending my own life.
Sitting on the laminate floor, I cried and text my best friend. Perhaps if I knew there was an end to this ‘phase’ I could cope. If she said she felt like this too, but it went away, I could stick with it. I could be brave. She rang me straight away. Luckily she is a midwife too and recognised that the way I felt wasn’t normal. We agreed I would go and see the doctor the next day, but I would ask for help inside of seeking a way out.
After more sobbing at the doctor, a phone call to a very understanding matron at work and a referral to our perinatal mental health team, I felt a bit more positive. I was going to have a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), lots of support and potentially some medication if things didn’t improve. I also had a diagnosis. Antenatal depression.
Around 1 in 10 women experience postnatal depression and we are getting so much better at looking out for it and supporting women in the immediate post partum period, but did you know that the same number of women will suffer from antenatal depression? We assume that in pregnancy women will be suffering from the physical symptoms of pregnancy, but how many of us pay close enough attention to their mental health?
If you are worried about a friend, loved one, colleague or patient, please, please speak to them. After 3 months of therapy and almost a year of medication, I am now the mother of a beautiful, hilarious, vibrant little girl and when I think of what could have been I am so thankful for good friends and great support.’
For more information and support please check out PANDAS Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support.
Phew, that was a quiet few days…… my last post The truth about maternity leave obviously hit home to so many of you out there, and not just here in the UK. All over the world, it went viral! In fact that post in total was viewed almost half a millions times. I’m completely and utterly blown away with that, I can’t even begin to contemplate what that even looks like in numbers. Apart from some negative comments left on the blog, many of you said it described exactly how you were feeling as new mothers. So to all of you who shared my blog on either Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or just by word of mouth I thank you. You’ve reached out to many many mothers, fathers and grandmothers out there. I hope we can all continue to be honest and support one another when the going gets tough.
So today is a lovely birth story for you all.
This is the birth story of me (Ellie) and my second born (Ida).
I was 38 weeks pregnant and the ladies at toddler group were starting to comment that there was no way I would make it to 40 weeks! I was huge! I had worn out two pairs of jeans over the month playing trains with Rufus my 2 year old, was spending most weekends as a ‘single mum’ as my husband travelled up and down the country to work, and was certainly ready to have the baby out rather than in!
We had spent weeks deliberating how we would manage if I went in to labour while Gav was in London working. Friends and family had offered to be on hand to drive me to hospital if necessary, hold the fort until Gav got back, and I had a rota of potential babysitters for Rufus. Nothing to worry about.
That weekend, we had a couple from America staying. They were new to England and we had offered to show them around Leeds and help them to find accommodation. It would be nice to have company while I was heavily pregnant.
I spoke to Gav that evening, him in London suburbia, me in Leeds. ‘If anything happens, keep me in the loop Ellie’. ‘Nothing is going to happen tonight Gav, I’m 38 weeks’ said unsuspecting me.
It was a strange night, I kept waking and having pain across the top of my tummy, not like contractions. I felt worried and started to push the poor baby around with my hands, desperate to feel some foetal movements. I slept on and off until 4am, when I felt a kick….no…a pop? Had my waters broken? I stood up and there was a trickle. When I made it to the toilet there was more of a gush. I decided to call the maternity assessment suite, who said it sounded like it could possibly be my waters and to give it an hour until I came in to be checked. Convinced my waters had broken, I called Gav, ‘Get the first train back from London’ (he could be back in 5 hours. Plenty surely? Especially after a 24 hour labour with Rufus). I called my mum (in the Lake District) ‘my waters have broken, please can you drive over?’ It is only a 2 hour journey for her, so decided I would wait for her to arrive before we head in to the maternity suite.
I tried to sleep a bit more but wasn’t really tired, the adrenaline kicked in. I got myself dressed and decided to get some toast and watch some telly. At 5am contractions started but I called the midwife who said there was no rush to go in unless I thought I was in established labour. From this point on, I think I was delirious! My toast lay uneaten, the tv was never turned on. Gav kept calling telling me to use my contractions app. It was telling me that my contractions were 2 minutes apart but I kept thinking that can’t be right and clearing the whole history to start timing again! He told me to wake our visitors, but I thought it was too early in the morning and I’d be labouring for ages. I straightened my hair(?!), then felt an urge to push and went to the toilet. At this point I called my mum. ‘I don’t think I can wait for you (she still had an hour to go), I think I’d better call a taxi’ to which she replied ‘I think you’d better call an ambulance’. I crouched over on the stairs on the way up to my bedroom, the pain taking over my body and called 999. ‘I’m bearing down’ I told the emergency services, ‘I think I’m going to have a baby’! (Whoever says I’m bearing down???) She replied ‘I’m going to talk you through how to deliver your baby!’ ‘I’m not having it here!’ I cried! She asked me if I could feel any part of the baby, I thought, hmmm can I feel the baby?…oh can I feel the actual baby!! She directed me to get sheets and towels out on the floor, which I did but all the while I was thinking this really is stupid….then woaaaaah….it’s coming. ‘Arrrrrrrggghhhh!’ I screamed. Yep, that woke our visitors up for sure and she rushed up the stairs half asleep only to be greeted with ‘I’m really sorry, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but is that a head?!’ ‘I think that’s a head’ she replied! She was amazing! She took the phone from me and (whilst struggling to understand all the Yorkshire twang) delivered Ida Rose Evelyn right there and then on my bedroom floor at 6am. And wow! She was safe, she was beautiful, she was healthy, it was so peaceful. I lay with her in my arms for 8 minutes until the paramedics showed up.
I called Gav. ‘I’m so sorry, I’ve had her!’ Poor Gav, having paid £50 taxi fair to get to kings cross sat in the back of the taxi, gutted. The burly taxi driver comforting him.
The paramedics treated me like a queen, scurrying round my bedroom finding me bits and pieces (including the toblerone), I was in shock! They delivered the placenta and put it nicely in a plastic bag and cut the umbilical cord. Rufus woke up, the timing could not have been more perfect. He saw the paramedics and immediately said ‘my baby sister? I go upstairs?’ To which I replied…’ummmm, I’ll be down in a minute!’
What a precious moment, walking down the stairs, Ida wrapped in a towel only to be greeted by her big brother munching his breakfast. What joy radiated from his face!
Off Ida and I went to hospital, she fed beautifully all the way there and I felt such a surge of love and such completeness. Our American visitor had warned my mum to go straight to the hospital, but omitted the finer detail that I had given birth! As the ambulance doors flung open, she thought I was nursing my bump, then ‘you’ve had her?!’
Gav burst into the hospital at 9am. ‘We have to have a third child now so I don’t miss the birth again’ he said whilst cradling Ida and musing at all her petite, dark features. ‘Lets not talk about that right now Gav!’